The lead story on page 1 of Thursday’s USA Today carried this headline: “New state problem: too much money.”
It stood in stark contrast to the lead story that appeared on page 1 of Thursday’s Northwest Herald, about Gov. Pat Quinn’s “State of the State” speech and McHenry County lawmakers’ reaction to it.
“After five years of cost-cutting, many of the nation’s governors can boast of budget surpluses – and they have no shortage of ideas about how to spend them,” the USA Today story opened.
It went on to say that 23 states had budget surpluses last year, “often in the billions” of dollars.
“We have gone from a $10 billion deficit to a $2 billion surplus in just three short years,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in his “State of the State” speech. “We can increase our investments in education, health care, economic development, and still provide more tax relief.”
Quinn couldn’t make the same claims in his speech. What he could have said, but chose not to, is that the state of Illinois ended 2013 with more than $7 billion in unpaid bills despite record revenues.
“What do you do with a surplus? Give it back to the people who earned it,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said in his “State of the State” speech. “It’s your money.”
Quinn, meanwhile, made no mention in his “State of the State” speech of the “temporary” income tax increase that he and lawmakers foisted on the state’s workers in 2011, an increase that is scheduled to sunset at the end of the year. Rather, many expect he and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly will either seek to make the “temporary” hike permanent or, worse, raise taxes higher through a progressive income tax.
While Quinn tried to keep his speech as positive as he could, saying Illinois was “making a comeback,” most everyone listening wondered if the governor had been spending too much time in Colorado, Washington or any other legal pot states.
“I don’t think [Quinn] and I live in the same state,” state Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, told the Northwest Herald.
During the speech, the Illinois Policy Institute (@IllinoisPolicy) tweeted out these rather depressing facts about Illinois under Quinn’s watch:
• lllinois’ credit rating has been downgraded five times since 2011;
• Moody’s Analytics: Illinois predicted to be 50th in job growth in 2014;
• The average property tax rate in Illinois increased 18 percent between 2010 and 2012;
• Illinois has the nation’s second-highest property taxes;
• Illinois added 100 people to food stamps for every net new job created during the past decade;
• Illinois has the fourth-highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world;
• Illinois has the fourth-highest workers’ compensation costs in the nation;
• Illinois has the third-highest unemployment rate in the nation;
• Illinois’ pension and other bonded debt exceeded $127 billion at the end of fiscal 2013.
While dozens of other states have recovered nicely from the Great Recession, Illinois’ top leaders continue to think they can tax and spend their way to prosperity.
Thank the heavens it’s an election year. If things are going to change around here, it’s up to voters to make it happen.
• • •
You may or may not have noticed that I haven’t written in this space in a while. That’s because I’ve been distracted with another project.
Shaw Media, owner of the Northwest Herald, recently purchased The Herald-News from The Sun-Times, and I’ve been busy helping integrate the Joliet-based daily newspaper into our company.
The Herald-News (theherald-news.com) essentially is to Will County what the Northwest Herald is to McHenry County. As we’ve rebuilt the staff in Joliet and made changes to improve the product, it’s been fun hearing from readers about what they want their newspaper to be.
This was the second acquisition by Shaw Media in as many years. In late 2012, Shaw Media purchased Suburban Life Media from GateHouse Media, owners of the Rockford Register-Star and the State Journal-Register in Springfield among many others. Suburban Life Media is a group of more than 20 weekly newspapers in Chicago’s suburbs.
So while other media outlets drone on and on about how the newspaper business is dying, Shaw Media actually is growing and thriving. In the suburbs alone, we now have daily newspapers in McHenry, Kane, Will, DeKalb and Grundy counties, and weekly newspapers in Lake, Cook, Will, Kane, DuPage, McHenry, DeKalb and Grundy counties. Of course, each of these print editions has an accompanying website.
Yes, we face challenges, among them having to do business in this business-unfriendly state. But in these challenging times, I’m happy to be a part of a media company that is growing and doing well.
And I’m also happy to be back writing again, though not as often. I will be sharing this space on Sundays with News Editor Kevin Lyons, Editor Jason Schaumburg and Senior Reporter Kevin Craver.
See you in a few weeks.
• Dan McCaleb of Crystal Lake is group editor of Shaw Media’s suburban publications, which includes the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.